Adult Career Pathways from Coast-to-Coast

ACP Trailblazer

Margaret BowlesMargaret Bowles
State Director of Adult Education, Montana Office of Public Instruction

Q: Tell us about the state of Montana's commitment to career pathways for adult learners.

A: Agencies across Montana that serve lower-skilled adults are committed to assisting them in identifying a career pathway. It is our belief that adults who have completed a thoughtful, realistic career planning process are more likely to succeed in achieving their career plan than adults who independently select a career without identifying the short and long-term goals needed.

Since 2008, Montana agencies have collaborated to support career pathways in a variety of ways:

  • Developed the PEP Talk process to support adult career plans;
  • Developed a framework for individual agencies to build career pathways related to labor market needs in their area;
  • Hosted a state career pathways conference; and
  • Created an ABE Workgroup to identify best practices that support career pathways for ABE learners.

A systemic approach to career pathways reaches out to a previously untapped labor pool and contributes to sustaining a vibrant state economy.

Q: From your vantage point as state director, what are some of the more promising strategies being employed in the design and development of Adult Career Pathways programs?

A: It is important for all ABE students to receive guidance in the development of their career pathways plan, so all ABE programs in Montana have PEP Talk and the Bridge Curriculum as primary resources. Each program is now building from this framework in different ways in order to meet the needs of their demographic area and unique student populations. Promising practices include: hiring a career pathways coach, modifying the intake process to use PEP Talk on the front end, using adult education content standards to ratchet up curriculum to support career pathways, starting PEP Talk cohort groups, and creating ABE satellite classes on two-year campuses without a permanent ABE program.

Additionally, 3 two-year institutions have received grants from the Montana College!NOW initiative to implement models designed to better support Adult Career Pathways for ABE students. The models being developed include the creation of a postsecondary cohort in an ABE program that currently is housed at a community college; a four-week, four hours a day, math and writing focused boot camp for ABE students who recently received their GED and are scheduled to enroll in postsecondary education and training; and a transition program from two ABE programs to a college of technology located several miles away. These grantees have worked collaboratively to develop a student data spreadsheet and an evaluation tool that will provide details to help other state programs enhance current Adult Career Pathways materials or modify the approach supporting Adult Career Pathways.

Q: From a personal standpoint, why do the goals of a career pathways program resonate with you?

A: My father obtained his GED while I was in elementary school and when I graduated from college he was entering his third post-GED career. Through his career changes, I learned that careers can evolve and family lives improve. I am thrilled to be working with a program that is a vehicle for other families to experience what I did. I know career pathways are bigger than individuals—career pathways move families forward. All adults deserve a chance to step up on a career ladder.



National Career Pathways Network Conference

Richmond, Virginia
October 17–19, 2012


National Council for Workforce Education Conference

Long Beach, California
October 21-23, 2012


Effective Transitions in Adult Education Conference

National College Transitions Network
Providence, Rhode Island
November 7–9, 2012


National Clean Energy Workforce Education Conference

Albany, New York
November 14-15, 2012


2013 Educating for Careers Conference

Sacramento, CA
March 10-13, 2013

This is an archived newsletter from ACP-SC and is available for archival purposes only. Hyperlinks on this page may be broken or may no longer link to the content specified from within the original posting date.

State Spotlight: Montana Career Planning Process Offers “PEP Talk” for Adult Learners

PEPTalk LogoAdults in Montana seeking to begin a new career pathway have a powerful set of tools available to help them navigate their journey. In 2008, using funds from a Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Incentive Grant, three Montana state agencies partnered to develop a statewide resource that could support all adult learners, no matter what their point of entry might be. Leaders from the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education; the Office of Public Instruction, Division of Career, Technical, and Adult Education; and the Department of Labor and Industry, Workforce Services Division envisioned a framework that would improve career planning services and be portable from one state agency to another.

After meetings with agency heads as well as officials from the governor's office and economic development, state leaders reached consensus on the need for a new career planning system for Montana. Representatives from the partner agencies conducted focus groups at locations across the state, engaging stakeholders, and building support at the local level. The new system was named “PEP Talk” for Personalized Employment Plan and development began on a suite of tools that would connect adult learners with information, resources, and personalized support to develop long-term employment plans that capitalized on their personal strengths and interests. PEP Talk allowed the state to leverage an existing valuable resource that had been underutilized, the Montana Career Information System (MCIS). PEP Talk was designed to guide individuals through each step of the career planning process using robust tools already available within MCIS.

The PEP Talk process is straightforward, taking participants through three essential steps: Awareness, Exploration, and Planning/Goal Setting. The process makes users aware of occupations and postsecondary opportunities they may not have previously considered. Once a user has decided on a career path, PEP Talk resources such as goal-setting templates help them create a personalized plan. The end result is a clear, concrete set of steps the participant will use to pursue a career in their chosen field.

To support implementation of the PEP Talk system, trainings were conducted across the state with local providers. All three state agencies participated in the training to familiarize local staff with the tools and activities available to support the PEP Talk process and to ensure understanding of the MCIS system. Posters, brochures, intake cards, and flowcharts were also distributed to help market the program locally.

To facilitate self-paced interaction for adult learners, the PEP Talk process is supported by 28 e-learning modules. Each module offers a short explanation of how to use the various PEP Talk tools. The “Blueprint” walks users through the entire PEP Talk process with nudges about when it is time to view the next module. Although designed for users to complete the process on their own time, at their own pace, adult education providers have been integrating the PEP Talk tools to facilitate small group and one-on-one training and counseling sessions within their programs. Even though the resources are available for learners to access on their own, many adult learners prefer the additional support and interaction that the face-to-face communication provides.

PEPTalk online

Programs across the state are sharing their success stories of PEP Talk implementation to encourage broad use with a range of audiences. For example, Miles City Adult Basic Literacy Education (ABLE) offers “Dinner and a Career”. The sessions have resulted in increased job interviews, job placements, and enrollments in postsecondary education or training among participants. Additionally, the program has adapted PEP Talk's SMART (Specific-Measurable-Attainable-Realistic-Timely) goal-planning instrument for learner goal-setting and counseling in the ABLE intake process. Missoula ABLE is using PEP Talk with groups of displaced workers in a program called “Where Do We Go from Here?” Flathead Job Service is offering small group classes around PEP Talk with two instructors available to help clients with limited computer experience. PEP Talk has been effective with both experienced workforce members interested in making a career change and younger clients who are interested in exploring career options. Adult education state leaders say PEP Talk is giving local staff the tools they need to begin conversations with students about looking beyond General Education Development (GED) attainment. PEP Talk is helping adult learners set long-term goals supported by realistic plans to achieve them.

PEP Talk simplifies career planning and makes it manageable for learners by walking them through each step of the process, whether independently or with support from knowledgeable providers. PEP Talk not only helps participants formulate long-term employment plans, but also provides valuable career planning tools, enabling them to become self-sufficient when conducting future job searches within their chosen career pathway or a new one.

To learn more about PEP Talk, visit


Research and Policy Corner

Recent reports of interest to Adult Career Pathways practitioners are featured below.

The Promise of Career Pathways Systems Change and Initiatives: What Role Should Workforce Investment Systems Play? What Benefits Will Result?

Released April 2012

Prepared by Jobs for the Future for the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration's Career Pathways Technical Assistance Initiative

This policy paper provides examples of state and local workforce investment systems that are centrally involved in the development of career pathways; discusses the benefits for workforce boards that can come from such investments; highlights the value of having workforce systems at the table; and describes specific investments of resources, time, and leadership that state and local workforce boards have committed to build effective career pathway systems.

The paper suggests that workforce systems should be integrally involved in planning for and carrying out career pathways systems change by:

  • Collecting, analyzing, and sharing labor market information;
  • Providing skills assessments, skills matching, and career navigation functions, including the identification of skills gaps where training is needed;
  • Providing counseling and support services;
  • Providing access to and funding for training; and
  • Providing job search assistance.

Download the paper at:

Courses to Employment: Partnering to Create Paths to Education and Careers Aspen Institute's Workforce Strategy Initiative

C2E Cover Released May 2012

This report summarizes research from the Courses to Employment project, which studied six community college-nonprofit partnerships that collaborated to help lower-income adults succeed in the classroom and labor market. The report provides an overview of the approach and strategies the partnerships use, structure with respect to institutional roles and responsibilities, factors that influence those structures, and the education and employment outcomes participating students achieved during the Courses to Employment project. The publication is designed for policymakers and investors who are interested in supporting models that increase the success rates of adults in community college. It's also useful for workforce development leaders interested in building or sustaining collaborative efforts to support regional labor markets as well as learning about innovative curriculum, training and instruction, employer engagement, and support service strategies.

Findings from participant outcome studies point to the project's approach as a promising strategy for serving low-income adults. High percentages of participants completed community college programs, most graduates obtained employment after training and earned higher wages than they did prior to training, and many graduates continued to do well in their education and employment experiences after initial training and job placement.

Download the publication at:


Featured ACP Resource

PEP Talk: Personalized Employment Plan System

  • Awareness of skills, interests, and life issues;
  • Exploration of possible careers based on awareness results, job availability, job demand, salaries, physical or other limitations, training needed, and possible financial assistance; and
  • Goal Setting.

The PEP Talk Blueprint was created to simplify the steps described above and guide job seekers through the process of creating their own personalized employment plan. Twenty-eight video training modules offer step-by-step support. PEP Talk is intended to help program participants narrow their employment skills and preferences to specific career clusters, guide participants to the appropriate educational and career pathways that will enable them to achieve employment goals in those fields, and ultimately develop a long-term mindset of finding jobs that are satisfying and sustainable.

Full description and resource links are available at:

Phone: 703-688-ACP7 (2277)
Kratos Learning, ACP-SC Project
2920 South Glebe Road
Arlington, VA 22206

Disclaimer: The Adult Career Pathways (ACP) News is a publication of the Designing Instruction for Career Pathways (DICP) initiative and was produced by Kratos Learning, in partnership with the Center for Occupational Research and Development, with funding from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), under Contract No. ED-CFO-10-A-0072/0001. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education, and no official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education should be inferred. This document is in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.